204 - Bee Ridge Trail
Easy - Moderate.
This is another of the trails that begin and end
entirely within the Wilderness. About a mile from the trail's northern end, the
path to the Big Tree forks off (see below).
While many people only hike this far on 204, they are missing the
much more hilly and scenic portion further to the south.
The trail ends at the Sipsey, joining trail
209 - Sipsey River.
The northern end of trail 204 branches off trail
224 - Bunyan Hill at a point that is a little less than
a mile from the northern end of 224 (at 208) or about four miles from the
southern end of 224 (at the Borden Trailhead).
The southern end of 204 is at the river, branching off of trail
209 - Sipsey River at a point some two miles from
209's western side. This point is not the same place as the junction of
the East Bee Branch Canyon Trail and the river; rather it is almost a half mile
further east. The small trail marker is easily missed.
Notice that whichever way you choose, you have at least three miles of hiking
just to get to this trail, a fact often overlooked by Big Tree day-hikers.
The hiking is good in either direction. Coming up from the south, you start
with a gradual climb to the ridge through hemlock and hardwood forest. The
trail gets narrow at times but is well-defined and reasonably free of obstacles.
The quite nice views can be obscured when the trees are fully leafed-out. Once
up on the ridge, the route straightens out a bit with level terrain through oak
and hickory forest.
About a mile from the northern end, the East Bee Branch Canyon Trail forks off.
In spite of
a lack of water in the immediate area, the plot between the forks is a popular
camping spot. The entire northern end has camping possibilities since the
terrain is so flat. But you would need to carry in your own water or plan on a
run down to Bee Branch to acquire some.
204a - East Bee Branch Canyon Trail
Easy except for the hill near the Big Tree.
This hill is steep and can be really slippery and
treacherous after a rain. Other than that, you are either up on the ridge
or down along the water and the ground is pretty level.
The northern end branches off of trail 204 - Bee Ridge (see above). The
southern end is at the river, branching off of trail
209 - Sipsey River at a point about two miles from 209's
western side. There is no sign but you will see Bee Branch flowing into the
river and the area definitely looks like someone has been there before.
Coming up from the river, the trail follows the water and is fairly easy.
This is not an "official" Forest Service trail and hence is not maintained.
But given the number of people who pass this way each year, branches and downed
trees tend to get moved out of the way. Though since the trail is low-lying in
the valley, the path can get muddy after a rain.
The head of the canyon is spectacular with bluffs on three sides and usually
at least two waterfalls. And of course the ever-poplar
Big Tree, the largest
Yellow Poplar in Alabama, about 150 feet high and 25 feet in circumference.
From the Big Tree, to continue north on the trail requires climbing
the steep hill on the east side (to the right when facing the head of the
canyon). This hill can be very slippery after a rain and without much
to grab onto. So be careful.
Coming from the north end of the trail, you hike about a quarter mile through
terrain much like 204 before reaching the hill. The same considerations apply
concerning the steepness, maybe more so for going downhill.
Camping in the northern section is pretty much limited to the campsite where
this trail forks off from 204. In the canyon, there are some spots along the
water. But remember many people walk up this path and maybe you would rather
pitch your tent in a less hectic location. There are a number of well-used
campsites at the southern end by the river but they can fill up quickly during